By Clay Thompson | Intern
My first viewing of Netflix’s “The Power of the Dog” left me speechless in many respects. I was shocked by the ending of the film. I was disturbed by the brutality of the film, and I was intrigued by the premise of the film. This is not a movie for the faint of heart and mind, as to me, it appeared to be a shining testament to the destruction insecurity can cause.
Benedict Cumberbatch played perhaps his most nuanced, yet villainous role to date as the charismatic, yet mentally and emotionally abusive Phil Burbank. His acting is on full display in the film, as he portrays a very inhuman character in a painfully human way. Surprisingly, I was able to relate to Cumberbatch’s Burbank in the film, as his insecurities about himself lead him down a dark path of abuse toward others who he sees as above himself. Burbank is a cruel man who was adored by others, yet audiences can see what a broken man he is, and how he treats others is a clear way to deflect from his own self-hatred.
Cumberbatch is not the only acting powerhouse of the film. Both Kirsten Dunst and Kodi Smit-McPhee give stellar performances in their own right as an emotional, fragile-turned-alcoholic mother and her son who share what can be considered “strange interests” in the time of the Old West, but whose true character remains mostly a mystery for most of the film’s runtime.
Dunst played Rose, the newlywed wife of Phil’s brother, George Burbank, played by Jesse Plemons. Rose is often the subject of Phil’s brutal mind games, which slowly cause her to self-destruct by turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism. Smit-McPhee played her son Peter, a mysterious young man targeted by Phill and others for his less-than-manly interests in science and art. Both play the characters masterfully, and I truly felt for their struggles and motivations as the film went on.
The cinematography of the film helped the landscape feel like a character itself. With brilliantly lit landscape shots of what is supposed to be early 1900s Montana, the scenery itself seemed to reflect another message of the film: how the age of manhood of the Wild West, defined by stalwart, strong and sometimes cruel men, who tamed the American west, was slowly being changed. I personally saw this in several landscape shots that I won’t spoil it at this time.
Director Jane Campion, also nominated for Best Director this year at the Oscars, has directed and constructed a brilliant psychodrama of epic proportions, a story that takes place in the Wild West, but is far from a Western as films come. With actors at the height of their talent, and themes shining through in the darkest ways, “The Power of the Dog” is a film that demands to be seen and should be if given the opportunity.